EAST LANSING, Mich. (BVM) – Sophia Franklin has become one of the top college pole vaulters in the country. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, one that may have seemed unlikely when she was younger.
In seventh grade, Franklin was persuaded by friends and her gym teacher to try out track. Previously, she had been a dancer, doing ballet until her freshman year of high school.
By the time she reached Okemos High School, Franklin was forced to make a tough decision between the two activities. She chose track, and the decision has led her to unprecedented success.
Throughout her first couple of years of track, Franklin was a hurdler, but tried out many different events in the sport during her freshman season.
“Pole vault just really stuck,” Franklin said. “I remember trying it for the first day and the first time you pole vault, it’s really not super exciting. You barely bend the pole, it’s very basic, but I loved it and thought it was the best thing ever. I loved the adrenaline rush that you got from pole vaulting.”
From there, Franklin’s athletic career took off. She began competing in track year-round at Landon Athletics, being trained by Jerry Sessions.
“He really took me to the next level in high school,” Franklin noted.
As Franklin got to her junior and senior years, she began seeing vast improvement, and realized she had what it takes to pole vault in college. During her time at Okemos, Franklin was a four-time letter winner as she excelled in hurdles, and became an all-state selection in the 100-meter hurdles as well as the pole vault in her final two years.
“It’s cool to look back and see my progress and how I kind of progressed throughout the years,” Franklin said. “To see my name up there on the record board a few times definitely made the imprint too.”
Franklin placed third at state to finish off her career in both the 100m and pole vault, but she also began making some national waves around the same time, competing in the New Balance Nationals in both 2016 and 2017.
“I think that was so helpful,” Franklin said. “The first time I went, it was so overwhelming, I had never been to a meet like that. To compete against some of the best in the country in high school, that was something I wasn’t used to … I think it just prepared me a lot more for college because obviously in college you are going against some of the best in the country.”
Towards the end of her high school career, Franklin was also beginning the recruiting process, searching for the college she’d call home. She thought initially that would be far away as she searched for schools in the south and west.
“I thought I wanted to go as far away as possible,” Franklin said. “I was looking at Florida, California, I did not want to be anywhere near Michigan … All my visits, I had a really good time, I really meshed with a lot of the teams and the coaches. I almost went to a school out in California, but it kind of just came down to Michigan State, it quite literally is home for me and it felt very comfortable … Everything just felt right at Michigan State. Everything just fell into place.”
Also drawing her to Michigan State was Coach Ceith Creekmur. Franklin was hoping to find a coach similar to what she had early in her career with Sessions, and Creekmur was just that, easing her transition to the collegiate level.
“When I came to Michigan State and I met Coach Creekmur, I felt like they were very similar, I really liked his style of coaching and I felt like it made the transition much easier, too,” Franklin said.
Once again, Franklin made the right decision. Coming in with few expectations as a freshman, Franklin proved her talent immediately with a fourth-place finish and personal-best 4.13-meter pole vault at indoor Big Ten championships. A solid outdoor season as well led to another personal record and an appearance at the NCAA finals as just a freshman.
“I think my freshman year was full of a ton of surprises,” Franklin said. “I didn’t really have any expectations going into college, I just wanted to feel it out and do the best that I could … I think one of my favorite moments was when I made it to nationals. I ended up qualifying for nationals as a freshman which I think is a pretty big deal. I was just so excited.”
As impressive as her freshman season was, Franklin absolutely bested it in her sophomore year. During the indoor season, she took home a Big Ten title, also setting a program record with a 4.19-meter jump.
🥇 #B1GTF Champion!!! 🥇
— MSU Track & Field/XC (@MSU_TFXC) February 22, 2019
“I think my sophomore year really ramped everything up,” Franklin said. “I think I started to make progress. Winning indoor Big Tens, it didn’t come as a huge surprise, everyone else but me kind of was … When it happened I was kind of shocked, but it was definitely really cool.
“They set the bar, in the back of my mind, I wasn’t quite sure if I could clear that, so when I did I was shocked. I think there’s a picture somewhere or a video and my face was just like, ‘Wow, I really did that.’ I always had belief in myself but I think that was the moment where I thought I could really be good at this and really take it to the next level.”
At the top of the mountain after her sophomore year, Franklin would unfortunately endure a challenging junior season. That began with a hamstring injury suffered during the indoor season that continued to nag and hamper the pole vaulter.
“My junior year was a bit of a mess honestly,” Franklin said. “It started out really, really strong again, carrying the same momentum from my sophomore year … In January, when we came back from winter break, we were doing a workout and I felt a tightness in my legs that I never really felt before. I think everyone has those aches and pains, but this was a little different, I wasn’t able to finish the workout … It was really hard because every few weeks I’d be like, ‘Oh, it feels great, I’m ready to run again.’ And then I’d run and kind of re-injure it.”
By March, Franklin felt her hamstring was back healthy and ready. But before long, her outdoor season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I remember the day that we were all at practice and it felt like a dream,” Franklin said. “Our coach told us we had to go home and being told you have to go home is just kind of a weird thing, especially in college. Nobody really had any answers at that point.”
However, Franklin now sees the layoff as beneficial, as the break allowed her to take some time away from the sport, reset and also get her hamstring back to full health.
“I think Covid was a bit of a blessing in disguise because I was able to fully heal my hamstring,” Franklin added. “I think what I really needed to do was to not do anything, but when you want to get back, you kind of just jump the gun.”
In her senior season, Franklin was healthy and able to compete again. However, the beginning of the campaign was challenging, as the long layoff had decreased the level and heights the pole vaulter had been jumping at near the start of her junior year.
“It was really hard when I first got back to it,” Franklin noted. “It was really frustrating to not really be where I wanted to.”
Still, Franklin finished second at Big Ten indoor championships. Slowly but surely, her confidence was returning, and by her outdoor season, Franklin became a Big Ten champion once again as well as an NCAA All-American.
— MSU Track & Field/XC (@MSU_TFXC) May 27, 2021
— MSU Track & Field/XC (@MSU_TFXC) May 16, 2021
“Winning Big Tens was so special and then becoming an All-American for the first time was so exciting,” Franklin said. “Being able to have that and share that with my coach, and my family ended up going, that was just a huge moment for me.”
With an extra year of eligibility, Franklin has taken full advantage of her final season throughout the last several months. Her success has continued, breaking her own record in the indoor with a 4.38-meter jump and becoming a Big Ten champion for a third time after winning again in the indoor championships in February.
Rewriting the record book again!@SophiaFrank14 sets a new indoor school record with a 4.38m height in the women's pole vault at the Meyo Invitational, surpassing her own 4.27m record from earlier this season.#GoGreen pic.twitter.com/H2lV5Zmtjt
— MSU Track & Field/XC (@MSU_TFXC) February 5, 2022
Sophia Franklin is a 3-Time overall Big Ten Champion.
— Michigan State Athletics (@MSU_Athletics) February 25, 2022
Unfortunately, the outdoor season has not quite gone as smoothly. Recently at the Big Ten championships, Franklin failed to clear the bar in any of her attempts, a disappointing result for one of the favorites to win another title.
“I ended up no-heighting and that’s only happened to me one other time,” Franklin said. “It was pretty upsetting, I was definitely really, really disappointed because I came in basically thinking that I was going to win it again. It was really upsetting but pole vault doesn’t always go your way, any sport doesn’t go your way all the time, you can’t win all the time. I’m just really motivated to figure everything out.”
After a strong performance at NCAA regionals, Franklin will now head back to the NCAA championships as she concludes her final year competing for the Spartans. She hopes her career doesn’t stop there, as Franklin will be moving out to Seattle for a job opportunity but will also keep training in pole vault, striving to compete at an Olympic level someday.
“I think there’s more left in the tank,” Franklin said. “My goal right now is to just keep training and make it to the trials in three years and then just see what happens after that. I don’t think the Olympics are a crazy, out-of-reality goal.”
No matter what happens from here on out, the program record-holder in both the indoor and outdoor pole vault is bound to go down as one of the most decorated track athletes in Michigan State history.
“I think it won’t hit me until after I leave, it’s still setting in and it doesn’t feel like the end quite yet for me,” Franklin said. “I never really thought of myself coming in as someone that would leave such a mark on the program. I thought I was going to be good, but I didn’t really know how much success I was going to have here. My goal was to just set the bar as high as possible and have my name on the record board as long as possible, and I think I’ve done that. It’s just really exciting, it’s a great feeling. I’m just really proud of the last couple of years here.”